Updated: 6 days ago
By Mishelle Wade
I would like to introduce a controversial emerging co-culture within the international henna community and in my own practice. In this article, I will do my best to demystify this peculiar term, identify its core practices and some commonalities amongst its practitioners. The term “Henna Witch” has cultural baggage to immediately unpack. It can evoke confusion, fear and anger in those who are used to hearing about henna in the traditional context of South Asian, Arabic, Middle Eastern and African cultures. On the other hand, some folks coming from religious backgrounds might hear the word “Witch” and immediately picture a satanic henna cult. Rest assured, this term is not intended to remove henna from its traditional origins or conjure demons but to build on henna's diverse and ancient traditions as its foundational use expands.
A simple google search of “Henna Witch” is misleading and will not suffice. It will take you down the rabbit hole to strange horror fiction stories, random social media accounts and dated Pagan chat forums. Despite the illusive origins of the term, it has evolved into an expansive community that is intercultural and global. “Henna Witchcraft” is considered more of a spiritual or holistic wellness practice rooted in plant-based energy work. Self-identifying members of this co-culture come from all parts of the world: both traditional and non-traditional henna-using origins. Each person brings different cultural knowledge, ritual and significance to their practice.
I believe the modern “Henna Witch” community is a product of cultural diffusion, the rise of modern-day witchcraft, historic henna use, the internet, folklore, plant medicine and metaphysical practices. The term can conjure the euro-centric stereotype of a witch, especially coming from me, (white Irish-American lady) but its important to remember that witchcraft or magic practices are ancient and also rooted in Indigenous, African and Hispanic cultures (among others). In other words, “Henna Witch” is not some new age mumbo-jumbo that a group of white ladies on Facebook started out of boredom yesterday! (Although it can be, if you're not careful.) Going for cultural joyrides as a member of dominant culture is problematic without proper knowledge or respect. Cultural appropriation has multiple facets and nuances that are highly subjective so I invite you to form your own opinion in that regard. I encourage everyone to do thorough research before engaging in cultural practices and seek out traditional practitioners. Some practitioners will share snippets of information freely but it is important to pay and promote your teachers if your serious about respecting them!
Did henna get co-opted by New Age Spiritualists, Wiccans and Pagans in America? Not necessarily, however, there are cases of this so it depends... Many people who are using henna with bad intentions get bored and move on. Henna is far too complex to callously pick up as a spiritual tool with no technique, research or dedication.